On the morning of the 20th November 2015, BBC Breakfast News published the story of Trevor Barlow a 71 year old gentleman who had been diagnosed with terminal illness due to exposure to asbestos. The interview has encouraged others to consider the effects of exposure to asbestos and highlights the current government plans to assist those who have asbestos related illnesses.
Trevor was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal cancer, caused by asbestos exposure several years prior to him becoming aware that he was ill. Trevor had been suffering from symptoms similar to chest infections and when the symptoms were not relieved by a course of antibiotics, further investigations were conducted. Trevor explained that his exposure was at the age of 16 years old, some 55 years ago.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that usually starts in the covering of the lungs, the pleural mesothelioma. Most cases of the disease are caused by asbestos and the risk to a person is increased if they were exposed to large quantities at an early age. The link between the disease and asbestos became accepted in the 1960s, but cases are expected to continue to increase over coming years as exposure for many would have been prior to this decade. The majority of those who suffer from asbestos related mesothelioma are men who worked with the material in industries and factories during the Second World War and the 1970s.
Cancer Research UK predicts that the cases of asbestos related mesothelioma will continue to increase until around the year 202 and then cases will decline as the risks of exposure decreased following the 1970s. However, the use of asbestos was not banned fully in the Uk until 1999.
The nature of mesothelioma means that symptoms are not apparent until much later and so treatment is usually not able to provide a cure. In Trevor’s case, surgery and chemotherapy have offers some alleviation and prolongment of his life, though his condition remains terminal. The BBC have highlighted the outpouring of support that Trevor’s interview has aroused from the public. His interview can be seen here, on the BBC Twitter page.
The House of Lords are debating whether insurance companies should provide additional funds to cover the costs of further research into the effect of asbestos on the health of those who are exposed to it. It has been estimated that insurance companies will face payouts of up to £8 billion in future years because of claims relating to asbestos exposure and related illnesses.